We often take the way that we use and understand words in sentences for granted. However some children with physical disability have special challenges in this area.

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What is language?

Most people use speech to express themselves but there are also other forms of language expression, for example, writing.

Some people develop language using alternative methods, such as signing, or pointing to pictures or symbols.

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‘Normal’ language development

Communication development begins from birth. Right from their birth, children begin to learn many communication skills. To start with, these do not involve language.

Children begin to develop language from a very young age in the following ways:

  • Very young babies make their interests and needs known through their body language and the sounds they make - parents interpret these sounds and actions as communication.
  • Babies begin to learn the effects of their actions - and so they begin to use these actions to try to get attention, help or approval from adults.
  • As babies, they begin to understand words that are used often in their world, to copy these words, and then begin to use them as a way of getting their message across - later they learn how to put two or more words together to make phrases.

Disclaimer: General information only - you should consult with the relevant professional before using it with a particular child.  See disclaimer details.

Developmental milestones

The  American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website has an excellent section that provides useful information about normal developmental milestones.

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‘Problems’ with language development

Some children have difficulty developing these normal language skills. They may have either a language delay or a language disorder.

Language delay

A language delay is where the child is developing language skills following the usual pattern, but at a slower rate than other children of the same age. Some children may have good language comprehension, but poor expressive language for their age.

Language disorder

A language disorder is when a child’s language development is not following the usual patterns.

The disorder may affect only the expression of language or both expression and understanding of language. Common language disorder difficulties can include:

  • difficulty following instructions
  • difficulty learning concepts, for example, shapes, colours, sizes
  • using a smaller range of words than expected
  • leaving out grammatical parts of speech
  • swapping from topic to topic
  • using the same phrases over and over
  • giving poor eye contact and attention
  • talking about inappropriate topics
  • repeating what others have said inappropriately.

Warning signs of a possible language delay or disorder

The Hanen website provides a good list of the warning signs for language delays and disorders. Once you get to the site, click on 'questions'.

Who to go to for help?

If you are concerned about the way in which a child is developing language send an on-line message to a Novita speech pathologist.

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Some therapy approaches commonly used by Novita


Disclaimer: General information only - you should consult with the relevant professional before using it with a particular child. See disclaimer details.

Novita uses many different approaches depending on the age and needs of each child and family, but the ones described below are some that have been found to work well for the families and children with whom we work.

The Derbyshire Language Scheme

  • The Derbyshire Language Scheme was developed in England.
  • It is a step-by-step program to help improve a child’s understanding and use of words.
  • Novita speech pathologists often use aspects of the Derbyshire Language Scheme.
  • It is based on the idea of ‘information-carrying words'.

An information-carrying word is any word in a sentence that must be understood in order to follow an instruction.

Drawing - mother stretching out her hand & asking her child to give her the ball.Take the example of a child asked to ‘give me the ball’ while the person asking held out their hand, with only a ball in front of them.

The child does not have to understand any words, because the person has shown them what they want. This statement has no information-carrying words.


Drawing - child with a book & ball -  adult asking for the book.If there were to be a ball and a book and the same question was repeated, the child needs to know the difference between ‘ball’ and ‘book’. This has one information-carrying word level.

  • Messages can have varying numbers of information carrying words depending how they are said and what ‘clues’ are provided.
  • Using the Derbyshire Language Scheme, children are taught to understand and to use messages with increasing numbers of information carrying words.

Speech pathologists from Novita and the Department for Education and Child Development (DECD) run three day Derbyshire workshops during the year for parents, teachers and other professionals. Send an on-line message to a Novita speech pathologist for more information.

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Another common approach to language therapy is Signing. Signing provides a visual ‘picture’ of spoken words. It is helpful because it can:

  • improve the child’s understanding of language
  • increase the child’s expressive language.

Makaton Signing workshops are run regularly by Novita Speech Pathologists. Basic and Refresher workshops are available.

Contact Amanda Denley - Novita Speech Pathologist for more information on 8243 8365.

The Hanen program

View the factsheet  Hanen Parent Program  - Frequently Asked Questions (PDF - 161 Kb)

Details of the Hanen approach are well documented in an easy to read format in the book by [Manolson, 1992] - see details below.

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Further information

View the following factsheets on the Speech Pathology Australia website:

Visit the American Speech-Language Association website to view the Language development page.


The following books may be obtained through the Novita Toy & Resource Centre. If you are registered with the Centre, you can borrow them by completing the on-line request form.

  • Manolson, A (1992).  It Takes Two to Talk: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children Communicate. A Hanen Centre publication, Toronto
  • Clark, L and Ireland, C (1994). Learning to Talk, Talking to Learn. Harper Collins, Sydney

Disclaimer Detail: The above information on is of a general nature only and does not constitute advice. Novita Children's Services makes no representations, express or implied, as to the accuracy, usefulness, suitability or application of the information to a child's particular circumstances. Use of the information above is at your sole risk, and you should seek professional advice before acting or relying on the information. Novita Children's Services accepts no liability for any damages or loss that may arise from the use of, or any omission from, the information provided. In using this site, you are agreeing to the Terms and Conditions of Use for the site.